What I’ve Learned as an Aspiring Editor

I may be writing this post prematurely, only because I’ve been an editor for a team of five writers just for the past three months. My background since graduating college hasn’t been solely filled with writing editing. While, yes, I had an internship at a local newspaper as an editorial assistant and, of course, I have Niche, I was never editing daily for eight hours, so I’ve crammed and learned a lot since mid-November.

Now that I’ve become the one responsible for editing, I’ve pick up a few things about writing, editing and myself:

I don’t know everything about grammar.
Blasphemy! How can I call myself an editor if I don’t know everything about grammar? When you go to study English, literature or creative writing at any university, there aren’t any required grammar classes. Yes, you wrote a lot of papers or short stories during undergrad, depending on your major, and took the required composition courses. However, unless you seek out a grammar class, which I don’t think would be offered at a university level, you’re done taking grammar courses after high school. Everything there after is self-taught or constantly studied and reviewed (see: point about style guides).

Everyone is working from their own style guide.
MLA. AP. Chicago Manual of Style. Speech-to-text. Everyone has their own way of writing and following certain grammatical choices. We have a journalist on our team who is very straight-to-the-point. We have a blogger who likes to draw descriptions out. We have a girl who uses adjectives to modify every single noun (she writes beautifully, but it’s so very long) yet writes every preposition just as she speaks. A writer’s voice should be prevalent throughout their writing, but a consistent style needs to be followed. As an editor, you’re maintaining a standard for your writers, but sometimes maintaining certain style choices could affect the writer’s voice. However, despite writers’ creativity, they should be able to fit into a company’s style guidelines and still keep their voice throughout their content.

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My CMOS and I have spent many late nights together.

Humility is important.
When you approach a writer above any edits or changes, you need to err on the side of very polite. I learned this in my publishing and editing course almost four years ago, but it didn’t mean anything to me at the time; I figured, just grow some thick skin. Since our team is small, we can get away with being a little more casual with each other, but when I leave track changes or comments, I’ve had to be less direct and more “What do you think?” “Thoughts?” “Does this change the meaning?” We all have our pride, egos and sensitivities, and it helps to be more cautious when working with writers, as I would definitely appreciate the same consideration if it were my work scrutinized word for word. Even when working with an agency, don’t take a “well, you work for us attitude” when editing; give constructive feedback to your edits for more improvement from writers going forward. No, really.

Again, I’m sure there are many more things I can and will learn as my time as editor continues. When I was interning at a local newspaper, I had read The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago by Carol Fisher Saller, which I highly recommend, as well as her blog, to get a good overview of what to expect and do.

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